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How Sahir Ludhianvi and Sudha Malhotra created magic 

He was a poet; she, a songstress. Between them, they gave rise to one of the most enduring myths of love and longing in Indian cinema.

Shriram Iyengar

A world weary poet walks into a reception party. It has been thrown to honour his ex-flame and her new husband. Regretting his lost love, the poet composes an ode to unrequited love. An ode that becomes a song, and a song that perpetuates a myth. The story of 'Chalo ek baar fir se ajnabi ban jaaye hum dono' is a fascinating myth that sheds more light on the relationship between one of Indian cinema's greatest poets and his muse. It is the story of Sahir and Sudha.

Sudha Malhotra was not the first woman to be linked with Sahir Ludhianvi. The tale of Amrita Pritam and Sahir has been repeated to boredom. The poetess was so infatuated with Sahir that she would sit in silence by the side during his poetry tellings, and smoke the leftover butts of his cigarettes when he left. There have been pages and books and films written over this sad tale of love. The industry was rife with rumours that Yash Chopra's sizzling 'Kabhie Kabhie' was an ode to this immortal and tragic tale of love between Sahir and Amrita. It was during this tenuous break between himself and Amrita Pritam that Sudha Malhotra found herself linked with the great poet.

She was an aspiring singer. Discovered as a prodigy by Ghulam Haider, Sudha Malhotra was touted as the next Lata Mangeshkar. She made her debut as a singer, aged 14, in the Dilip Kumar starrer.Aarzoo. Soon, she found herself working side by side with greats like Mukesh, Mohammed Rafi and Talat Mehmood. Her career was on an upswing. It was then Sahir approached Sudha for a song for the film 'Bhai Behen' in 1959. It went 'Mere nadeem, mere hamsafar' (My friend, my companion). It was the beginning of a relationship few in an industry rife with rumours understood. She was 23 and still searching for a footing in the industry. He was 38 and an established romantic poet at the peak of his powers.

In a country where myths are often more durable than the truth, the 'love affair' between Sahir and Sudha Malhotra became the talk of the town. For their part, neither denied nor affirmed the story. Although, in her interviews in recent years, Sudha Malhotra has admitted that Sahir Ludhianvi was an important reason for her success in the industry. In the book 'Sahir Ludhianvi', Akshay Motwani quotes Sudha Malhotra accepting that the poet sometimes showered a great deal of attention on her. He would call her in the mornings to discuss about work, leading to gentle chidings of 'morning alarm phone call' from her friends. Sahir would allegedly force music directors to work with the new starlet. He composed some beautiful gems that were rendered under her voice. Take for instance, this beautiful ghazal


'Tum mujhe bhool bhi jaao to yeh haq hai tumko

Meri baat aur hai, maine mohabbat ki hai.'

(If you wish to forget me, you have the right to do so

I, however, have loved you and will do so.)


In view of such facts, it is difficult to ignore that the great poet might have been captivated by the singer's voice. Songs like 'Salaam e hasrat qubool kar lo...meri mohabbat qubool kar lo' for the film Babar (1960) almost feel like a confession from the poet's pen. A notoriously shy personality, Sahir's silence would prove to be devastating for his heart. His previous affair with Amrita Pritam had ended with him never making an overt move. This made his attention towards Sudha Malhotra all the more interesting for industry insiders. Sudha Malhotra, however, continued to deny the rumours. In an interview, she would say “If I have been an inspiration for so great a poet as Sahir, it is flattering. But personally, I never looked at him with any romantic feelings. It was a relationship of mutual respect.” In 1960, Sudha Malhotra would record a song based on a ghazal by Sahir for Chetan Anand's film. The film was soon to be shelved, but the ghazal would find immortality under Yash Chopra. It was titled 'Kabhi Kabhi'.

One of the greatest myths of this story is the composition of the song 'Chalo ek baar fir se...' that Sahir wrote for BR Chopra's film 'Gumrah'. The story goes that spotting Sudha Malhotra at a party with her husband, Sahir composed this beautiful ode for unrequited love. In one stanza, the poet states

Woh afsana jise anjaam tak laana na ho mumkin

Use ek khoobsurat mod dekar chhodna accha.

(If a tale cannot be brought to conclusion

Give it a beautiful twist.)

BR Chopra, known for his dramatic twists, filmed the song on Sunil Dutt, Mala Sinha and the eternal Ashok Kumar. Sunil Dutt, portrays the lovelorn poet, who comes to sing at Mala Sinha's house at her husband, Ashok Kumar's request. It was an almost cinematic retelling of the myth that would follow Sudha Malhotra and Sahir for the rest of their lives. Although Sahir first composed the ghazal for one of his earliest published poem collections 'Talkhiyaan' (Bitterness), few cared for the historical accuracy of the story. It added to the allure of the broken hearted romantic that was Sahir. The rumours became so strong, that Sudha Malhotra disappearance from films after marriage was considered a consequence of this beautiful ghazal. The fact that Sahir remained a bachelor till his end, enhanced the legend of his romances. Decades have passed, and generations too, but the song remains a symbol of a broken heart's cry.